Beginning in 1973, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) actively supported the development of housing co‑operatives under various programs. The federal programs are often identified by the section of the National Housing Act under which they were funded.
Each program was different, but all provided co-operatives with some financial help. This could include start-up funding, grants or subsidies to reduce the co-op’s costs, mortgage financing or insurance, and funds to reduce the monthly rents of people with low or modest incomes. In exchange for federal assistance, co-operatives entered long-term operating agreements with CMHC lasting from 30 to 50 years. Apart from a few small “deep-subsidy” programs just for people paying a rent geared to their income, an important aim of these housing programs was to create mixed-income communities.
The founding boards of most housing co-operatives contracted with resource groups to help them obtain land, purchase existing housing or oversee the construction of new housing, set up management and governance structures and recruit members to fill the units.
While federal development ended in 1991, the government has continued to honour its operating agreements with existing co-operatives under these legacy programs. Beginning in 2016, as the operating agreements co-operatives had signed came to an end, the government offered extensions to ensure that housing assistance would continue to be available for those who depend on it. In 2020, the federal government launched a rental-assistance program, which the Agency manages for housing co-operatives in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island when their operating agreements expire. The rental-assistance program (FCHI-2) allows co‑operatives and other not-for-profit housing to continue assisting lower-income members who pay a set percentage of their income as rent.
Across the country, about 2,200 housing co-operatives continue to operate under federal and provincial programs, or no program at all. The federal-provincial program, Investment in Affordable Housing, has supported the creation of a small number of new housing co‑operatives. The Movement continues to advocate for assistance that will make possible a new growth spurt for co-operative housing.
Contact the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada for more information about developing new housing co-operatives.